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Borah Bergman Trio

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Album Review

Pianist/composer Borah Bergman's second offering in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture Series follows its predecessor some six years later. When Meditations for Piano appeared in 2003, Bergman had used his highly individualized voice on the instrument to create a modern-day series of meditations on Hebrew cantorial songs. Many of these retained elements of melody and harmony from the songs that had inspired them. On Luminescence, Bergman mirrors that first recording by going to some of the same source material for inspiration and places his findings in a trio setting for five of these six pieces, and for quartet in another. Bergman is accompanied by one of the great rhythm sections in new jazz, with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Greg Cohen; series producer and label boss John Zorn appears on alto on one number. The vocabulary of the cantorial songs may be the primary inspiration of these original compositions, but it is not the only one. The pianist's sense of counterpoint as developed from Bach and Lennie Tristano, the extended lush harmonies of Bill Evans, and the speculative if taut lyric lines of Alban Berg and the Second Viennese School in general are also part of this music's iconography as heard here. But more than even these, it is Bergman's own keen understanding of the jazz piano trio that marks these tunes and gives them their signature place in the cadence of modern jazz. Bergman's rhythmic sense is as keen as his harmonic one — check his interaction with Wollesen on "Quantum," or with Zorn on the knotty "Luma." His engagement with the bassline on "Parallax" entwines repetitive lines with a scalar stringency, as notes fall and nearly fall off, yet retain their rhythmic order. Like its predecessor in this series, Luminescence is a mysterious, inquiring album, one that asks many questions of its source material yet never attempts to resolve them too neatly, and therefore creates something truly new.


Born: December 13, 1933 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Early in his career, it was typical for jazz critics to compare the extraordinary free jazz pianist Borah Bergman to Cecil Taylor. However, critics subsequently pointed out the folly in such comparisons, perpetuating the very same juxtaposition, instead of listening to Bergman abstracted from such concerns. Though Bergman himself claimed Tristano, Monk, and Powell as influences, he rated comparison with nobody, so singular was his ability as an improvising pianist. Bergman had perhaps the most comprehensive...
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